The Burning of The Strathearn Towns & Villages : PART TWO

" Bobbing John " - the incredibly two faced  and incompetent Earl of Mar , Jacobite leader at Sheriffmuir


The Chief official in Scotland was the King’s brother  James , Duke of York  and Albany. He was not an Episcopalian but something even worse in the eyes of many Presbyterians , a convert to Catholicism ! In 1685 he succeeded to the throne on Charles’s death . In England opposition was strong and William of Orange , ruler of Holland was invited take over the throne . His wife , Mary was James elder daughter.
James went into exile and William became King . Scotland followed suit and when William guaranteed a Presbyterian ascendancy in Church matters he became King of Scotland .

The struggles continued . Claverhouse whom James had created Viscount Dundee moved north and raised an army of James supporters or Jacobites . He moved south and defeated General MacKay at Killiecrankie but was himself shot . The next battle  was at Dunkeld where a Cameronian regiment ( founded by the original dissenters ) held the town against the Jacobites . William demanded  Clan chiefs take an oath of allegiance . The Massacre of Glencoe resulted . Feelings in the Highlands were made worse by a number of similar type atrocities. A naval force had attacked Eigg and massacred and violated the people . The matter was hushed up. ( Lynch, 1991) . The Darien scheme followed authorisation by the Scottish Parliament. It was a disaster and nearly bankrupted the Country. Lack of support from the forces of King William when under attack caused resentment .The Act of Succession was passed by the English Parliament without consultation and the 1705 English Alien Act restricted severely matters of inheritance especially amongst those Scottish nobles with lands south of the Border . They could not inherit. Such was the turbulent back cloth to the century prior to the first Jacobite Uprising . The 1707 Union of Parliaments had become a fait accompli.

Religious changes locally

To appreciate and understand something of the complexities and attitudes of the times is fundamental to passing judgement on events . Apart from the ever present political intrigue amongst the politically powerful in the land , there had been the religious conflict of the 17th century with the “ killing times “ of the 1680s bringing with it the persecution of the Presbyterians  followed abruptly by what has been termed the  Revolution of 1688 which brought Protestant William of Orange and his Queen Mary to the throne of the the united kingdoms.  Here in  Strathearn , the problems in the parish church had mirrored the situation in the country at large . The minister was David Drummond  an MA of St Andrew’s University and a son of James Drummond , the fifth Laird of Milnab . David was from records an astute individual . He had succeeded to the local lands of Kincardine and Trytoun  and had purchased the lands of Callander near Barvick and with it the benefits of  the teinds ( a form of rent ) which supplemented his stipend . Although Drummond had supported the National Covenant in 1638 with its declaration  of Presbyterian convictions and resistance to Episcopacy , he had supported the Royalist cause during the Civil War for which he was deposed from his ministry  by the General Assembly of the Kirk . In fact their powers were such that Drummond continued to administer to his flock in Crieff as well as draw  his stipend before eventually relinquishing his charge in 1658 .

The local conflict was to continue with the appointment of Gilbert Murray as successor to Drummond . Like Drummond , Murray was from the same background as Drummond being related to the Murrays of Ochtertyre . He was immediately in conflict with the Presbytery when it was averred that he was in collusion with his predecessor Drummond and that the two  were in fact sharing the stipend between them ! Murray refused to appear to be questioned about “ the scandalous action “ and seemed to spend more time adapting his religious affiliations to the mood of the day . From being initially a staunch Presbyterian he became an Episcopalian but was allowed to continue his ministry ! His son William succeeded him in 1682 and quickly nailed his colours to the mast and made no bones the fact that he too was a convinced Episcopalian . No doubt to rub salt into the wounds of the Presbytery he introduced forms of worship which were an anathema to the traditional kirk . The Lord’s Prayer was used in worship, the Apostles’ Creed was repeated at baptisms and the Doxology was sung by the congregation .

Whether or not the somewhat independent views of the ministers in Crieff during the turbulent years of the 17th century indicated a degree of local support we shall probably never know. It is clear that the participating congregation as they worshipped in the old kirk in what is now Church Street were indeed participants in the acts of worship be they “ Piscy “ or not ! With the succession of William and Mary in 1688 , things however changed . Murray was deposed from his ministry for reading part of Psalm 118 after the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie : “ This is the day God made , in it we’ll joy triumphantly ! ” In 1690 Episcopacy was overthrown and the Presbyterian form of worship was formally re introduced with the Westminster Confession  adopted as the Confession of the Church . For a period of 9 years the turbulent charge of the Crieff Parish Church lay vacant until in 1699 when along came yet another Drummond !

John Drummond unlike his immediate predecessors had been educated at Glasgow University . His was a conformity to the established kirk and despite a flirtation with what was to become the first of the Secessionist groups ( this caused him to be disciplined by the Presbytery) , he stayed in charge in Crieff for some 55 years including the period of the first Jacobite uprising . It was John Drummond who wrote the account of the burning of Crieff . His and local Church attitudes towards the Stewart dynasty can be discerned from the records of the time . Minutes refer to a “ horrid abuse committed by some persons in the town of Crieff , by their drinking King James’ health publicly at the Cross and abusing several inhabitants in the town  .” Mr Drummond was requested to draw up a list of offenders for the attention of the Queen‘s Advocate  The regenerated kirk was determined to exert its authority on one and all . A Session minute is indicative of strict discipline they wished to exert on the local populous particularly in relation to the Sabbath . It notes “ the frequent profanation of the Lord’s Day by unnecessary walking in the fields , idle talking , bearing of water , taking in of kail and the like . ” Elders were asked to “ take strict notice ” of such infringements , with a view to discipline .       

This was the atmosphere that prevailed in this part of Strathearn . During the most part of the 17th century there was clearly a strong local support for the Episcopalian attitude and ipso facto the Jacobite cause .This was no doubt affected somewhat by the “ glorious revolution “ of 1688 and the subsequent clamp downs on attitude and civic discipline by the sentinels of a more Calvinistic kirk  both locally and further afield in Strathearn .  

The 1714 Uprising

Sheriffmuir was fought on the 13th of November 1715. The Jacobite army was led by the Earl of Mar and the Hanoverians by the Duke of Argyll. The Highlanders held Perth and moved onto Auchterarder where the army was assembled. It was nearly 9 000 strong and was more or less all of Highland composition. Argyll was based in Stirling and marched out on the 12 of November. His army was just over 3 000 in strength and comprised English soldiers and groups such as the Glasgow Volunteer Regiment and the Stirling County Militia. . They moved onto the high ground above Dunblane. The Jacobites moved out of Kinbuck  and took the high ground near what is now Whitestone Rifle Range. The battle was hesitant and indecisive . Marr was over cautious . Both armies retreated . The Government troops had losses  of 663 men , the Jacobites 232.  Although a nominal victory for the Jacobites it was the the beginning of the end . He retreated , troops deserted and he embarked on the scorched earth policy of destroying the towns and villages between him and Argyll, namely Crieff, Auchterarder, Dunning, Muthill , Blackford and Dalreoch. The accounts were all written by the Presbyterian Ministers of the various places. These were later collated by the Maitland Club in the 1840s and published . They were transcribed and reprinted in various books of the times such as Porteous and the Annals of Auchterarder. What is not generally reported is the original preface . The Chairman of the Club at that time was the incumbent Duke of Argyll whose ancestor led the Government forces at Sheriffmuir. This in itself reflects in the academic and historical nature of the reporting . The passage of time , some one hundred and twenty five years , since the event ensures that it is a record of the reporting of the day . The preface , which has been greatly ignored in previous accounts,  emphasised the reasoning behind the burnings , the scorched earth policy and the dire need of the Jacobites to prevent supplies in the depth of a cruel winter following into Hanoverian hands. It particularly draws attention to the bias of the contemporary reporters namely that of the local Presbyterian ministers .     


NB The following was copied in 1995  from the transcriptions of the above mentioned Club from documents held in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow .

The following documents relate to a period near the end of the Civil War of 1715 / 16 when the hopes of the Jacobite Army under the Earl of Mar at Perth and attended by the Chevalier in person ( then recently arrived in Scotland ) were limited to making a successful stand for a little time within or in front of that town against the superior forces of the Duke of Argyll who was expected immediately to march against them from Stirling for the purpose of putting an end to the insurrection. The county was covered with deep snow and it was thought necessary by the Jacobite chiefs to add to the difficulties of the Duke’s intended march by burning all the villages destroying as far as possible the grain and other provisions lying between Stirling and Perth .This severe measure was executed by detachment of the Clans and produced of course great misery to the people of the devastated district . These Duncrub papers , the composition apparently of a person friendly to the Government but probably faithful with regard to the facts give minute accounts of the various transactions.

It has been thought proper since the tone of the narratives is so unfavourable to the insurgent party to add for the sake of impartiality a letter addressed by the Chevalier when about to embark at Montrose , to the Duke of Argyll in which not only does the writer express the regret of a benevolent mind for an act which the necessities of war alone could justify but states that he had taken measures to repair as far as he could , the evils there by inflicted on so many innocent persons.

After all hopes of executing the will of the Chevalier had been abandoned by General Gordon and that they were carried abroad in The letter appears to have been left with the commander of the remnant of the insurgent army along with an order empowering him to forward it to the Duke of Argyll and at the same time to deposit a sum of money for the compensation of the sufferers in the hands of the magistrates of some town as might be convenient at the time.

Probably neither was the letter delivered nor the money paid but the fact of the effort by the Chevalier offers a satisfactory view of a character which every successive publication of exerts from the Stuart papers has made the more and more amiable and respectable.

The letter and order have been preserved in the family of Sir Peter Murray Threipland of Fingask, baronet, a circumstance which makes it probable that the design of the Chevalier was never executed. The ancestor of this gentleman, Sir David Threipland was one of the persons in arms and he contrived with one or two others to get to France in a vessel from the Moray Firth.It seems probable that the letter  and order had come into Sir David’s hands the first place and afterwards preserved merely as memorabilia by the head of the House of Stuart .

Copied from the Maitland Club Papers in the Mitchell Library
Glasgow ,1995.

What really happened ?

What actually happened then in the run up and in the aftermath of Sheriffmuir ? James VIII had as his Chief of Staff the Earl of Mar who had originally sworn loyalty to George I but had been snubbed by the monarch thus causing him to switch allegiance to the Stewart cause and the Old Pretender . Mar has been described as many things by  many people but it is clear that when he returned somewhat surreptitiously to Scotland from the Hanoverian Court in London after yet a second rebuttal from George . His  pique no doubt rekindled and inflamed his enthusiasm for James for he set about recruiting influential people to the Jacobite cause as soon as he landed in Fife . The story of the 1714 is long and complex and outwith the scope of this book . Let it suffice to say that immediately prior to the Battle of Sheriffmuir on Sunday the 13th of November 1715 , Mar was billeted at Perth and his rival Argyll at Dunblane . Strathearn stretched out between them . Auchterarder featured as a staging post for Mar . A week earlier the western clans ,approximately 2,500 strong arrived in the town . These comprised the MacDonalds of Sleat , MacDonalds of Clanranald , MacDonald of Glencoe, MacDonald of Glengarry , the MacDougalls , the MacLeans , the Camerons of Lochiel and the Stuarts of Appin . The army  was reviewed on Auchterarder Moor . It now numbered  some 8 ,797 men including Rob Roy and his Macgregors . The  battle was a bit of a non event or in modern parlance , hand bags at fifty paces ! Mar proved indecisive and failed to exert his numerical superiority . Argyll and the Hanoverians who numbered a mere 3, 210 men were let off the hook . Casualties  showed Argyll to have lost  nearly 700 men whilst the Jacobites lost a mere 232 .

What followed thereafter is the real subject of this tale . Mar had retreated to Perth . Argyll had sent out a scouting party of his dragoons from Dunblane and accompanied them himself .Their main intention was to appraise the road system and in doing so they reached as far as Auchterarder. Exaggerated reports of the strength of the party reached Perth . It was thought that some 3 000 men were moving forward and an attack was imminent . The scorched earth policy was put into action to prevent Argyll getting his hands on supplies . The weather at the time ( January 1716 ) was fiendish . There was  thick snow , then a rapid thaw and another heavy fall of snow .

The burnings were carried out by Clan Ranald  whose brother had been killed at Sheriffmuir. His 600 Camerons and MacDonalds fired first Auchterarder, then Blackford and then Crieff. The Crieff conflagration was assisted by Ludovic Drummond who was factor to Lord Drummond who it was alleged was delighted to take revenge on those who had failed to support the Jacobite cause. The feelings were high and it took a long time for compensation to be paid to the unfortunate citizens of the towns and villages destroyed . The ministers’s report praised one Jacobite , one of the local Lairds namely Anthony Murray of Dollerie whose family still reside to the east of Crieff . Murray had implored with compatriots to desist from their orders and save the town . It was to no avail . The Rev Drummond’s account is indeed graphic and obviously was seen by him as the inevitability of being persecuted by
“ wicked men compassing their designs of settling a Popish pretender upon the Throne . 

In conclusion hind sight perhaps draws the conclusion that the whole episode was unnecessary . Mar fluffed his chances at Sheriffmuir and authorised what was really a needles destruction of the towns and villages . Notwithstanding the recorded writings of the Calvanistic ministers with their deep seated hatred of “ papists and their like ”,it was clear that Strathearn was a divided community and not simply a split between Highlander and Lowlander , Episcopalian and Presbyterian , Catholic and Protestant.

The sadness is that geography had placed the Strath in the cockpit of a potentially National conflict between diametrically opposed factions .It stood in the way of the opposing forces and as such it was inevitable in the circumstances the one or other of the parties would employ a scorched earth policy . Historical accuracy and not biased sectarianism should be the accountant .   

Jacobite influence in Strathearn

To date , the accounts of the “ Burnings “ have , as related above been based on the accounts of the local Presbyterian clergy incumbent at the time .  The Kirk of course was at that time beginning to fragment into various seceding groups , all at each others throat over some seemingly relevant matter of Presbyterian government . Despite the various factions , burgher or anti burgher , auld licht or new  licht , they were all violently opposed to the  recently overthrown Episcopalianism or , say it quietly , the Papists of the “ auld faith “ ! Respected  historians such as Reid in his “ Annals of Auchterarder “ and Porteous  in his “ History of Crieff “ both reported but did not analyse the background to the “ burnings “ . What is perhaps not appreciated in this present age is that prior to both Uprisings , Strathearn was firmly owned and managed by the Jacobite faction . Fortunately we have a detailed list of names , places  , rent rolls , stock and crops from  the information collated by the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates and published by the Scottish Record Office in 1973 . In the  interests of historical impartiality the following is an abstract of the Earl of Perth’s confiscated holdings in 1755 .

1.     Barony of Lix ( NB the lands above Glen Ogle , north of

Lochearnhead ) : 4 farms, 28 families , 128 persons .

2. Barony of Balquhidder  : 8 farms , 68 families , 257 persons .

3. Barony of  Comrie  : 21 farms , 182 families , 777 persons .

4. Un named Barony including Findoglen, Achnashellach and the Culnacarries : 4 farms, 21 families and 99 persons .

5. Parish of Muthill : 88 farms or possessors , 391 families , 1639 persons .

6 .Barony of Auchterarder : 32 farms or possessors, 62 families , 261 persons .

7. Barony of Kinbuck : 7 farms , 33 families , 194 persons .

8. Barony of Callendar : 32 farms or possessors , 123 families , 523 persons .

9. Barony of Strath Gartney  : 14 farms , 100 families , 414 persons .

10. Barony of Milnab and the Town of Crieff  : 52 farms or possessors , 207 families , 778 persons .

11.Barony of Stobhall ( un life rented ) : 3 farms , 31 families , 132 persons .

12 . Barony of Stobhall ( life rented ) : 27 farms, 208 families , 990 persons .

What does the above prove ? In Highland , and indeed Scottish society of the time the tenants enjoyed the support and protection of the Laird or Clan chief . The Earls of Perth or the Drummond family could call upon from the above in excess of 6 000 individuals or well in excess of 50 % of the population . It is clear that whilst not everyone amongst his tenants would raise sword , a great many ,such as the Drummonds of Trian in Glen Artney would and did for a cause that their Chief believed to be just .


The purpose of my last two " Blogs " on the " Burnings " is  not to elicit support for an act of political vandalism which caused undoubted sorrow  and distress to the  citizens  of the villages including Crieff . It is not an attempt to give credance  to that incredibly  two faced  incompetant Jacobite general the Earl of Mar who  has the derisory  nick name  of  " Bobbing John " ! It is an attempt  to highlight the biased reporting of  events that  have  survived in numerous  books  and documents  such as Reid's " Annals of Auchterarder " published some 130 years  ago . The key point in this discussion  lies in Montrose's  victory at Tibbermore some 15 miles  from Crieff . The anhilation of the Government forces  made up of  ill trained mainly Presbyterian recruits established a deep hatred  of all things  Highland , Gaelic , Episcopalian and Catholic . Further salt was rubbed into Calvanistic wounds  when the " Highland Host " made up of troops  from Strathearn marched into Ayrshire  to arrest the Covenanters  and disrupt their conventicles ( religious gatherings held in remote moorland locations  between Ayrshire /Renfrewshire and Dumfries . ) The Ayrshire village of Fenwick has a memorial to the captured and slain Coventers  victims of the times . My 4  times great grand father,  on the paternal side,  James Craig was a farmer near the village  and his name is duly recorded on this memorial . The report I have included  from the Maitland Club papers is perhaps  the nub of the  whole matter . The leader of the  Government forces  against the Jacobites  at Sheriffmuir was the Duke of Argyll . It was his grand son who penned the explanatory report some decades later !


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